AT&T Pouts, Freezes Mostly Bogus 'Fiber To The Press Release' Deployments In Net Neutrality Bluff

from the land-of-broadband-make-believe dept

Oh, AT&T. For a good thirty years the telco has used a halt in "network investment" as a bogeyman to scare government away from any and all consumer protection policies. Do something we don't like, AT&T will usually argue, and we won't invest in the technologies of tomorrow, leaving you all stuck in the stone age and regretting the day you tried to challenge us. Usually said network expansion is a phantom; the company will simply manipulate numbers to actually create artificial broadband gaps, then promise to fill those gaps each and every time they want a regulatory favor.

AT&T has been doing it again lately with the DirecTV deal -- promising to shore up broadband gaps that should have filled years ago (thanks to billions in government subsidies) if it's allowed to gobble up a pay TV competitor. Basically, I've watched for ten years as AT&T just shaves off a few million users from their existing or already-planned network build projections, then pretends these users will be new upgrades -- but only if AT&T gets deregulated, faces fewer price controls, gets some new subsidies, or is allowed to buy BellSouth, DirecTV, or T-Mobile.

This week, "the good time, down home AT&T network investment bogeyman stage show" came to town in the form of a pouting response to the President's clear support for Title II reclassification. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has breathlessly proclaimed that the telco is going to freeze fiber expansion because they're concerned about Title II network neutrality protections:
"We can't go out and invest that kind of money deploying fiber to 100 cities not knowing under what rules those investments will be governed," CEO Randall Stephenson said..."We think it is prudent to just pause and make sure we have line of sight and understanding as to what those rules would look like," he added."
In other words, do what we want or we'll make sure the United States remains a broadband backwater. The problem? It's a childish, transparent bluff, as AT&T gave up on meaningful fixed-line fiber investment years ago.

Despite a decade of massive, sweeping telecom industry deregulation, AT&T's fixed-line network investment has consistently dropped like a stone as the telco focuses on wireless services, where socking users with overage fees and imposing bizarre new anti-competitive pricing models is far more profitable. In fact, AT&T announced yet another $3 billion fixed-line CAPEX investment cut just last Friday, long before the President announced he wanted to go to war over Title II. As for those "100 cities," AT&T says were getting fiber under the "Gigapower" brand? All AT&T's really doing is cherry picking a few high-end wealthy housing developments where fiber is already in the ground, then dressing up those deployments to make them look much, much larger than they actually are.

It's something I affectionately refer to as fiber to the press release.

When Google Fiber entered the market, pampered, competition-phobic, incumbent ISPs like AT&T, CenturyLink and Frontier began putting on a stage show, proclaiming that they too were joining the 1 Gbps race. Usually these announcements come in the form of a press release with absolutely no meaningful statistics in terms of timeline, coverage areas, or the actual number of users covered. That's again because it's largely bullshit: with a few exceptions, the companies are simply bumping speeds in housing communities where in many cases, fiber was in the ground as part of the building process. You'd be amazed (or perhaps not) just how well this works on the press, helping to craft the image AT&T's keeping pace as a next-generation broadband powerhouse.

But not only is AT&T not significantly upgrading the majority of its users to fiber, they're actively pulling out of vast swaths of the United States under the guise of something they're calling the "IP transition." As I've noted previously, AT&T's going state by state, promising state politicians amazing new levels of network investment -- but only if AT&T is completely deregulated and all consumer protections (like having to continue to offer dial tone to old people so they can call 911) is stripped off the books. In reality, AT&T's looking to sever the connections of tens of millions of DSL users they don't want to upgrade, which will only strengthen the cable monopoly in many markets.

This week, AT&T's once again pretending that if the government doesn't do what the pampered duopolist wants, they'll freeze fiber investments that were already stagnating by choice. It's a bluff that AT&T never stops using because the press, politicians and public seemingly never learn to stop believing it. Of the dozens of technology news outlets covering AT&T's announcement, only a handful could be bothered to mention that AT&T's 100 city promise was incredibly ambiguous and disingenuous to begin with, or the fact that AT&T had cut fixed-line investment projections already just days earlier.

Filed Under: fiber, fiber to the press release, net neutrality, randall stephenson, threats, title ii
Companies: at&t


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Nov 2014 @ 12:52pm

    Came here to submit the story to Techdirt after I read it elsewhere only to find it already reported on.

    What I couldn't believe is the political spin put on by Congress and the press about all this. Forget the children, think of the poor telcos.

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